When I started writing How I Live Now, I e-mailed my agent and asked how long a book is supposed to be.
In retrospect it strikes me as a funny question, one that goes right alongside ‘how many characters should a book have? and ‘is it OK to set my book in 1975?’
In a slightly different category is, ‘how many hours a day do you work?’ and ‘what sort of pen do you use?’ (Like I use a pen. Like I can ever find a pen that writes in this house. If I could depended on anyone in my family to put the tops back on pens so they didn’t dry out, even once in a bloody blue moon, I probably wouldn’t even need to invest in Macbooks. But that’s another post.)
Facebook and twitter are filled with people posting how many words they wrote today, and every time I see a post I think, so…were they 3,000 good words, or just 3,000 words?
Don’t get me wrong. Putting the words down on paper is important. But as to the number of words — I think it probably goes without saying that ten good words are better than 10,000 mediocre ones.
Through teaching and talking to aspiring writers, I’ve noticed that the big questions always seem to involve the best way to: find an agent, structure a novel, use social media, get good reviews, choose the right market, be a bestseller.
To which I’d say — write your book. Your book. Don’t look left and right. Don’t worry about how long it is. Don’t follow the trends. Don’t tweet because your PR says it’s good for sales (it’s not, except in very occasional instances, and it wastes vast swathes of time). Don’t subscribe to The Bookseller to see what size advances everyone else is getting. Don’t write vampire books or middle-aged soft porn because they happen to be trendy at the moment. (Though you’d have to be blind not to see that middle-aged soft porn and Kindles were made for each other…)
That’s all for today.
I have to catch a train for the Hexham book festival and I’m not sure where Hexham is. I always like to check a map before I go in case i find myself shouting HOW ARE YOU LANCASHIRE?? to an audience of 50,000 screaming fans in Lanarkshire.
Or in the case of Hexham, Northumberland.